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#438: Visit to homeland is an inspiration for action (fwd)


Visit to homeland is an inspiration for action
Published Thursday, September 9, 1999, in the Miami Herald 
 By HANS MARDY Herald Writer 

 It had been 25 years since Sylvan C. Jolibois Jr. set foot on Haitian
soil. In the quarter-century since he was last there, the island nation
of his birth had undergone tremendous change. A series of presidents and
military rulers had led the country through tumultuous times, embargoes
and troop invasions. Jolibois is among the thousands who have left the
island over the past three decades. But last month, he and hundreds of
others returned. They were invited back by the current government, which
sponsored a series of events -- Diaspora Week -- designed to bring
Haitians living outside the country back home. The program's goal: to
help boost tourism, attract investors and plot a course for the future
of the country. For many who returned it was an emotional homecoming
filled with memories -- good and bad. As Jolibois, a professor at
Florida International University, stood singing the Haitian national
anthem at one event in Port-au-Prince, the significance of his trip
 home overwhelmed him. The 42-year-old Miami engineer bowed his head to
hide the tears. ``The week was strongly emotional,'' said Jolibois, who
left his homeland as a boy of 3 to move to New York with his parents.
Less than two years later, the young immigrant moved again -- to Africa
with his father, Dr. Sylvan Jolibois Sr., who was hired by the World
Health Organization. For about 10 years, the family lived
 in African countries and in 1972 they moved to Spain, where the son
attended school for two years. Jolibois Jr. later moved to Venezuela and
then to Miami in 1993 with his wife and children. During the Diaspora
Week observance, Jolibois led several panel discussions and
 delivered a speech on what the island needs for economic development.
 ``It was a dialogue between the government and Haitians outside of
Haiti,'' said Jolibois, who in 1995 organized a conference sponsored by
FIU in Miami on infrastructure reconstruction in Haiti. ``We have a lot
to do to improve the country.'' Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis
opened the conference Aug. 16 at the Montana Hotel by greeting the
guests. ``The amount of money that comes from Haitians living outside of
the island is significantly greater than whatever the country received
as financial help from the international community,'' he told those
assembled. The two main discussion topics of the week were economic and
political. On one hand, Haiti needs Haitians living outside to bring in
money and investment dollars and get involved in economic development.
On the other hand, Haitians living outside of the island say they want
the right to get involved when major political decisions are made. Those
living outside the country say if they help redevelop the country, they
want the right to vote -- and be a part of the political
 decision-making process.``We all know the need of Haitians who are
living outside of Haiti,'' the prime minister said. ``Hopefully they
will be able to vote in the year 2000.'' Haitians who attended the event
made recommendations to the government at the end of the week. They
urged officials to make a declaration to allow Haitians living
 outside of Haiti to obtain privileges such as the right for those who
became citizens of other countries to have dual citizenship in Haiti.
Others want the right to have their own representatives at the Haitian
Congress. The Aug. 16-22 conference attracted nearly 300 people.
Haitians came from as far away as Spain, France, Canada, Cuba and other
Caribbean countries. Many who attended were of Haitian descent but were
born elsewhere and had gone to Haiti for the first time. Among them were
several born in Cuba. The U.S. delegation was the largest, with visitors
from South Florida, Boston, New York, Connecticut and other areas of the
country. A delegation of nearly 60 people led by Haitian General Consul
Jean Gabriel Augustin of Miami attended. Among them were local elected
officials, lawyers, professors, teachers, doctors, artists, business
owners and members of nonprofit organizations. ``It was excellent,''
said Jean-Claude Exulien, a Haitian-American historian who
 lives in Little Haiti. ``The government officials offered to Haitians
in the diaspora a chance to introduce themselves to those living in the
island.'' The conference was held during the anniversary of one of the
most significant events in Haitian history. Many know the stories of the
first big voodoo meeting held by the Haitian slaves at Bois Caiman in
northern Haiti on Aug. 14, 1791. A week after the voodoo meeting, on
Aug. 22, 1791, slave leaders launched the riot that freed the country
from slavery. ``Two hundred and eight years ago our grandparents
understood that slavery was not a normal condition for the country,''
Exulien said. ``They brought themselves together and changed the
situation.'' He added: ``Today if the Haitian government acknowledged
the value of millions of Haitians who migrated across the globe, we may
be able to see a change in Haiti.'' Many in the delegation were able to
see the sights on the island, transported in tour buses to several
receptions and parties organized by Jean V. Geneus, the minister of
Haitians Living Outside of Haiti. Few could forget the Aug. 17
performance at the Rex Theatre in Port-au-Prince when the group
Desandann of Cuba performed in their parents' homeland for the
 first time. The members of the group are Haitian-Cuban -- Cuban
descendants of Haiti. On Aug. 19 many visitors were able for the first
time to enter the Haitian Palace, the official residence of Haitian
President Rene Garcia Preval. He greeted group members and delivered a
short speech. On Aug. 20, the Miami group Sosyete Koukouy performed the
play Antigon, translated into Creole by Felix Morisseau Leroy, who died
in Miami last year. On Aug. 21, visitors had a chance to meet with
several thousand people at a public festival where Haitian singers
Emeline Michel, Joe Trouillot, Beethovas Obas, magician Fritzner Paul of
Miami and Tabou Combo performed. Some who attended the week's events
said they were shocked to see conditions in the country. The overcrowded
island of an estimated seven million people struggles and needs the
basic necessities to survive. Many think the Diaspora Week will improve
the relationship between Haitians living inside and out of Haiti.
 ``They had a chance to know better who Haitians in the diaspora are.
They also learned what we are doing in different countries to enhance
Haiti,'' Exulien said.